This past Wednesday I attended the first Hacks and Hackers Meetup in NYC. It was only the second time I’ve attended a meetup group, and the experience left me feeling cautiously optimistic. There’s a great deal of potential surrounding the field of electronic journalism, and electronic publishing in general, which is an interest I’ve begun to nurture in recent months. The technology is interesting enough in itself, but I’m curious to examine and experiment with its social impact. This seemed like a good opportunity to “get out of the house”, especially as work is concerned, and meet a few people with similar interests right as the momentum is building up in this area.
There were O(200) people in attendance. I was a bit overwhelmed, but had some spirited conversations with a few more extroverted attendees. We mused about what the technological upheaval of existing publishing models would mean for the quality of the journalism; how the lives of those employed in publishing and distribution might be affected; whether there’s a chance for technology to bring about a renaissance of reasoned argument and respected differences, as opposed to the overwhelming amount of oversimplification and divisiveness that it has has produced up to this point (at least in the US). We traded business cards; I will be in touch with those engaging few.
Having had a bit of experience in getting people organized around a cause, though, I do see a danger of this being more of a social club than a social catalyst. A party for 200 with little structure or conceptual framing may do as an initial ice-breaker, but how can you harness the interest and energy to do something constructive? In other words, is there any sense of a plan to develop, and then reach, measurable goals? Nothing too terribly specific, concrete, or necessarily epic, but I’d like to see something firm emerge from the initial chaos, something folks can really collaborate on to bring about some small-but-significant change.
That being said, I’m wary of using technology to connect more people in more different ways just for the sake of connection itself. I try not to judge people’s interests or presume their intentions, but I personally choose not to pursue social networking technologies as a solution for reasons I hope to articulate in time. There certainly was a very startup-y culture evident, with a heavy social networking flavor, which was unusual and exhilarating for me; but I’d like to bond with folks in smaller-scale units and focus on other ideas.
To put my money where my mouth is, I’ll drop the folks I met an email, and see what springs forth. I may be so bold as to reach out to some of the main organizers. At this point, I have no answers, but I think I’ve got a few interesting questions.